Tariq Ingraham (above) and PCL runner-up Bonner-Prendie are one of the favorites in the PIAA 5A bracket. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
The final segment of the 2017-18 Pennsylvania high school basketball season is upon us.
Six different brackets of 32 teams each get underway this weekend in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state playoffs, the second year since the expansion from four classifications to six brought even more excitement to March in high school gyms around the Keystone state.
The CoBL staff will be going in-depth on each of the six classifications to preview the state tournament, with favorites, contenders, dark horses and players to watch.
Here’s a look at the Class 5A bracket (district-seed, record in parenthesis); all first-round games will take place Friday, March 9. The full bracket, with times and locations, can be found here.
Bonner Prendergast (12-1, 22-4)
The Friars won the District 12 title, bringing them to their first ever PIAA state tournament appearance, a week after dropping the Catholic League title to Roman Catholic. Two junior transfers, Isaiah Wong and Tariq Ingraham, have been a huge part of the Friars’ attack, as has senior forward Ajiri Johnson, a Rider commit. Sophomore guards Tyrese Watson and Donovan Rodriguez, as well as junior Mike Perretta, also make an impact for the Friars. Bonner-Prendie has proved to be dangerous this year, beating powerhouses such as Neumann-Goretti, Roman Catholic, and Archbishop Carroll, and when they get hot they are a tough bunch to slow down.
Archbishop Carroll (12-3, 18-7)
Winners of District 12’s third place game which sends the champion to states as the last team from the Philadelphia-based district, Carroll is in the state tournament for the tenth straight year. Paul Romanczuk’s Patriots have only won one of the three state championship games they’ve ever played in during their time as part of the PIAA. Carroll has made it this far this year thanks to the play of super-sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard, a 6-4 bulky point guard with a plethora of flashy moves in his bag. The three-headed senior attack of guard Justin Anderson, and forwards Keyon Butler and Devon Ferrero have aided Hoggard in helping the Patriots make the state tournament for the tenth time in 10 years. Look for 6-4 junior Luke House and 6-4 sophomore Ny’Mire Little to contribute as well.
Mars (7-1, 21-4)
Just two years removed from a state championship encounter with Neumann-Goretti, Rob Carmody’s Planets hope to make their way back to Hershey before his talented senior son, 6-5 Robby, motors off to Notre Dame. While the younger Carmody can fill it up — check some of his numbers below — so can 5-10 junior Andrew Recchia (12.3 ppg) and 6-2 senior Cade Hetzler (10.9). Carmody, Recchia and Hetzler shared 38 points in the WPIAL title game, a 54-44 win over Franklin Regional that gave Mars its first title. Michael Carmody, a 6-6 sophomore getting football looks, averages 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per outing.
Northeastern (3-3, 26-3)
Plenty of experienced firepower fuels Jon Eyster’s potent Bobcats, who last season came within one victory of playing for state gold. Seniors Antonio Rizzuto and Fred Mulbah get game-planned for by the opposition most nights, but 5-11 senior D.J. Hamilton reached the Class A state quarters last year while playing at York Country Day. Sophomore 6-3 guard Nate Wilson is a terrific shooter, while 6-2 senior Nate Eyster is a glue guy willing to do all sorts of dirty work where needed. Additional depth comes from 6-2 Quay Mulbah, 6-4 Zech Sanderson and 5-11 Andrew Brodbeck, all sophomores.
Abington Heights (2-1, 22-3)
With several pieces still firmly in place following a tidy run to last season’s state semifinals, Ken Bianchi’s Comets continue to pile up results in the Keystone State’s northeast corner. The latest came Sunday as Abington Heights used a strong second half to storm past Dallas 61-36 and claim its seventh consecutive District 2 championship. Returning all-state selection George Tinsley rolled up 21 points and Jack Nealon added 19 — both are juniors — as Bianchi & Co. turned a tight game at the break (22-17) into a one-sided final. Scranton recruit Jackson Danzig, another returning all-stater, added nine points as the Comets handed Bianchi his 769th career success. The 6-6 Tinsley went into the title game averaging 18.1 ppg, while the 6-5 Danzig was scoring at a 16.9 ppg clip. Lost 6-3 junior deep threat Trey Koehler to a season-ending foot injury, but these guys continue to win and win.
Penncrest (1-1, 24-2)
The champions of District One, the Lions put on a shooting clinic in their win over Shanahan in the final. Senior guard Tyler Norwood played just as he usually does, with fancy crossovers and a jump shot that frustrates opposing players and coaches alike. Not many people have been able to slow down Norwood this year, who ranks number 13 all-time in the Delaware County scoring list at just under 1,700 career points. While Norwood puts on a show on offense, it’s senior guard Justin Heidig who does the dirty work on defense against the opposing team’s top scoring option. Senior forwards Chris Mills and Matt Arbogast, as well as junior Malcolm Williams -- all excellent defenders as well -- round out Mike Doyle’s starting bunch, which hopes to advance farther than last year’s first round exit.
Bishop Shanahan (1-2, 22-5)
Ken Doyle’s Eagles are perhaps the most talented team in school history, making it all the way to the District One 5A championship game last weekend before falling to Penncrest. 6-6 senior forward Kevin Dodds has made numerous strides in his game, as he proved with a double-double in the district semifinals. Tom Ford, a 6-4 wing/forward can also play in the paint, but Dodds is the go-to-guy down low. Dodds will be playing hoops at D-II Gannon (Pa.) next fall, and Ford to Hofstra for lacrosse. Look for guards David Angelo and Joe O’Malley to lead the backcourt, with junior Phil Chenard as a 3-and-D asset off the bench. The Eagles will face off against Hershey in the first round, where they lost a year ago.
Martin Luther King (12-2, 18-10)
The Cougars defeated Bishop Shanahan last year in the first round, but lost to Abington Heights in the next matchup. This year, they’ll have another tough first round matchup in the Chester Clippers. The one clear advantage MLK has over Chester is the size; the Cougars boast 6-foot-9 big man Will McNair and 6-7 forward Jerry Andrews. In the backcourt, senior Denelle Holly runs the show, and the 6-3 lefty is joined by junior Ricardo Montereiro. Sean Colson’s bunch has the talent to make a serious run in the state tournament.
The Dark Horses
Allentown Central Catholic (11-1, 23-4)
While Dennis Csensits’ Vikings do have some size available, these guys really love the 3-ball and they take advantage of the arc whenever possible. Balance is key at ACC, which has six players averaging between eight and 14 points per outing and two others that fit snugly into the District 11 champs’ eight-player rotation. While 5-10 Dat Lambert and 6-0 Jay Vaughan, a pair of senior guards, average 10-plus points per outing, it was 6-8 senior Keeshawn Kellman (17 points) and 6-4 sophomore Nick Filchner (16 points) that brought it in ACC’s 52-31 thumping of Bangor in the District 11 final, the Vikings’ 19th District 11 crown. Senior Jordan McChristian and junior Chad Kratzer also get numbers consistently, while senior Kevin Kern and junior Sam Vaughan round out Csensits’ top eight. Including East Penn Conference and District 11 tournament play, ACC has splashed 40 treys in five postseason games.
Chester (1-4, 18-8)
Arguably the most successful program in PIAA state tournament history, the Clippers of Chester boast an all-time record of 112-38. While this might not be the most talented group to come through the Clip Joint, this year’s edition of the Clippers do have the personnel to potentially make some noise. Brian Randolph III and Michael Smith propelled the Clippers to the district championship game, where they came up short to Bishop Shanahan. 6-4 junior Rahmaad Dejarnette and 6-5 freshman Karrell Watkins have contributed, while 5-10 sophomore guard Rahmee Gilbert has played well as of late.
Milton Hershey (3-1, 23-3)
Hard to imagine any other Pennsylvania side that tries to play as fast as Mark Zerbe’s high-octane Spartans. Quite simply, there’s fast and then there’s Milton Hershey. And for this group, which doesn’t pack much length, getting up and down is a must. While 5-9 senior Don’yae Baylor-Carroll and his high-speed approach sets the pace, 6-2 senior forwards Pedro Rodriguez and Treyvon Ferguson also thrive at the crisp tempo the Spartans prefer. Zerbe will mix and match at other spots, as 6-2 Carrington Smith, 5-11 junior Jaiden Young, 6-2 junior Naeem Cross and 6-3 soph Josh Parra are among the others that log PT.
Isaiah Wong, Bonner-Prendergast
In his first year at Bonner, Wong took home MVP honors of the Catholic League. The explosive 6-3 junior has been terrific all year, and hopes to keep it going into March. He can score off the bounce, and can shoot from beyond the arc. The transfer from Notre Dame HS (N.J.) boats offers from high-major programs such as Villanova, Miami, Seton hall, and Memphis.
A.J. Hoggard, Archbishop Carroll
A sturdy 6-4 sophomore point guard, Hoggard is averaging 15.4 points per game, and dishes out a few assists as well. He’s a confident ball handler, and has bounce to finish above the rim. He’s got offers from Seton Hall, Rutgers, and Uconn., and has a chance to get some higher looks by the time his high school career is over.
Robby Carmody, Mars
May have been fully engaged in a battle with the flu during Friday night’s WPIAL championship game, but the 6-5 Notre Dame recruit has had a special season — especially since Carmody went into the WPIAL final averaging 33.2 ppg, 14.2 rpg and 4.7 apg. Wound up with 11 points and 14 boards, but the Planets still managed to collar their first WPIAL title by downing Franklin Regional 54-44. Already over 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Tyler Norwood, Penncrest
Norwood put on a show in the district championship game, going for 27 points and bringing home the trophy for the second straight year. He’s got a quick trigger, and is hard to stop once he gets going. Only standing 5-10, Norwood usually shoots a good percentage from the floor; he was 11-19 in the district championship game. As Norwood goes, Penncrest goes, and the Lions can make some noise come playoff time.
George Tinsley, Abington Heights
Tinsley may not be the flashiest guy on the basketball floor, but by the end of the night he’s usually pocketed a sizable number of points (he’s averaging 18.2 per) and 10 or more boards. Has a good mid-range game, but really dangerous around the tin. Holds a Binghamton offer.
Antonio Rizzuto and Fred Mulbah, Northeastern
While the Bobcats may not have repeated as District 3 champions, these two certainly did what they could do to return to the top of the medal stand. Rizzuto, the bullet-bodied 6-3 wing with the serious hops ticketed for Albany, averaged 26.5 ppg in Northeastern’s four D-3 games while the pass-first 5-9 Mulbah checked in at just under 17 ppg. The high-flying Mulbah, who dunks easily, sports offers from D-II programs Lincoln, Millersville, Pitt-Johnstown and Shippensburg. Both players have surpassed 1,000 career points.
Kyree Generett, York
If York’s Bearcats had their names stitched on the backs of their jerseys, the 6-2 senior should just have FLAMMABLE etched between his shoulders. Capable of exploding on the break, taking a defender off the bounce or cashing in from deep, Generett is averaging 20.2 ppg for the District 3 runners-up — and has gone for 20 or more 16 times. He even dropped 36 in the D-3 semis in an overtime win over Northeastern. One reason why the Bearcats can’t be overlooked.
Kevin Dodds, Bishop Shanahan
If Dodds were a few inches taller than his 6-foot-6 frame, there’s no doubt he’d be a Division I scholarship player; as it is, he’ll be headed to D-II Gannon (Pa.) in the fall, a testament to the improvements he’s made over his three years as a starter. Always a hard worker in the paint with good hands and passing ability, he’s really improved his conditioning and footwork over the past year, throwing down some impressive spin moves in the paint and putting up big rebounding totals with strong second and third efforts.
Don’yae Baylor-Carroll, Milton Hershey
Three-year starter for the District 3 champions who can really, really fill it up, whether jetting up the floor on the break, pulling up in the painted area or firing from deep. Even at 5-9, the remarkably explosive Baylor-Carroll is averaging 23.3 ppg for the Spartans. Has several D-IIIs interested, including Mount Aloysius, Moravian and Penn State Harrisburg.
Ryan Smith, Lampeter-Strasburg
A matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, the 6-10 East Stroudsburg recruit can beat adversaries in the low blocks or wobble them from the arc. Add it all up and the talented senior is averaging just over 20 ppg for the Lancaster-Lebanon League champs (25-4).
First-Round Games to Watch
York (16-10) vs. Holy Ghost Prep (16-12)
Unquestionably a clash of contrasts since York’s high-octane Bearcats will want to do whatever they can to speed up Tony Chapman’s deliberate Firebirds. Hmmm. As for York, second-year skipper Clovis Gallon likely will turn his big three of Kyree Generett, Clovis Gallon Jr. and Marquise McClean loose on the District 1 entry and see where that goes. Holy Ghost can get points from a number of sources, such as 6-3 junior Jack Rittenmeyer, 6-4 soph Sean Elliot, 6-3 senior Jack Elliot, 5-11 junior Greg Sylvester, 6-5 junior Sean Sylvester and 6-5 junior Greg Calvin. Rittenmeyer dropped seven treys in a District 1 scrap with Great Valley that earned the Firebirds their berth in the state playoffs.
Bishop Shanahan (22-5) vs. Hershey (22-5)
Shanahan may be playing just down the street from its Downingtown digs, but the Eagles will be trying to rebound after tumbling in the District 1 final. Lots of quality talent to try to keep a lid on, but Hershey will bounce in confidently after knocking out District 1 champ Penncrest a season ago. Paul Blackburn’s Trojans may have a favorite spot ready for a pre-game meal and Rocky IV playing on the bus, but youngsters such as Wilkes recruit Sean Coller, Misericordia commit Jake Wilson, Chase Wallace, Nick Hines and James Madison football recruit Drew Painter were on board last year for that memorable trip to suburban Philly. Maybe another awaits.
Dallas (20-5) vs. Lower Dauphin (19-7)
Since these sides have little state tournament experience — Dallas head coach Mark Belenski won back-to-back PIAA championships with Bishop O’Reilly in 2004 and 2005, while Lower Dauphin guards Luke Hedrick and Casey Caruso earned their postseason stripes at other schools — this should be a really intriguing matchup. Joey Parsons, a 6-3 senior headed for Lancaster Bible, entered District 2 play averaging a team-high 16.9 ppg, while 6-2 senior Alex Charlton (12.4 ppg) and 6-0 senior Jay Bittner (10.7 ppg) also checked in with double-digit scoring averages. While 6-6 junior Will Bowen is the top scorer (14.2) for an LD squad that has reached states for the first time since 1992, the 6-0 Caruso (12.9) and 5-11 Hedrick (11.7) also are averaging in double figures after arriving from Camp Hill and Hershey, respectively, prior to the school year. Another 6-6 junior, Brian Swist (8.3), can cause matchup problems while 5-10 senior Josh Saufley and 6-2 senior Jackson Becher average around 5 points per outing.
Mars (21-4) vs. Hampton (11-13)
While the records might indicate otherwise, this is a frightening matchup for Mars since the Planets just downed Hampton 72-51 in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Rob Carmody’s club also popped the Talbots twice during the regular season. For those hoops history buffs, the intrigue comes into play since WPIAL champ Moon was upended in the opening round of states last season by No. 5 seed Franklin Regional — the same set-up we have here.
Franklin Regional (20-5) vs. Highlands (18-5)
Similar reasoning to the game listed immediately above this one applies here with one exception — Highlands split the regular-season series with the WPIAL runners-up. Oh, by the way, No. 4 seed Mars took out WPIAL runner-up Hampton in last year’s opening round. Apparently, the PIAA has taken steps to eliminate these matchups going forward, but the WPIAL’s unwillingness to shelve its follow-the-leader format and hold playbacks is another reason why these scraps are still in play.